For Jennifer Johnson, who spent much of her childhood in Thailand and was homeschooled until sixth grade, high school theater was an opportunity to find her own voice through characters and monologues. Since then, her love of acting has opened doors for a creative career path – from writing her own play in college to appearing in an American Horror Story promo.
“The theater and rehearsal rooms were my second home. I just felt incredibly lucky to have a place I could go every day that offered a creative outlet as well as a support system for students,” Johnson said of her experience in drama at Liberty Ranch High School. This experience helped her overcome fears, including pushing through stage fright, to act and sing in front of large audiences.
“I feel like I really found my voice on that stage,” Johnson said.
She wrote several sketches and monologues that were entered in theater competitions while at LRHS, even earning an award for one.
Johnson graduated from LRHS in 2015 and doubled majored in English and Theater at University of California, Santa Barbara.
“I realized once I got to college that it was never really a question of what I wanted to do with my life,” Johnson said. “I had already been given so many opportunities to explore my passions in high school, and I felt equipped to stay in the world of writing and theater. Having teachers believe in you sets you up for success.”
Johnson says both Anngela Schroeder’s support of her creative writing and Jim Nunes’ approach to theater has helped guide her to where she is today, along with the support she received from many other teachers at LRHS.
But she quickly learned that creative career choices aren’t the most straightforward, and you have to endure many “no’s” before you hear “yes.”
“I got to UCSB, and saw that they had an acting program,” she said. “I decided to audition – and I didn’t get in. It was probably in that moment when I didn’t see my name up on the acceptance sheet that I knew that I was going to do everything in my power to be an actor.”
In her final year of college, Johnson wrote her first play for a playwriting course. The play was called “Sterling,” and explored a family’s journey where, despite the eldest son’s struggle with addiction and isolation, siblings are able to reconnect and the family finds healing. The play was eventually put on by the university and got the full treatment: a director, crew and cast.
“Acting is an exploration into the human condition, not only is it cathartic but just plain fun,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, unlike many casting opportunities, one found its way to Johnson in search of extras for a promotion shoot for the upcoming season of American Horror Story.
“A casting agency reached out to my university, and I submitted my head shot and resume. It felt so official,” she said. “You might only see my arm in the corner of the screen when the commercials finally come out, but you know, it’s a big deal for me to even have been in the presence of such a big company.”
The promo has yet to air, but regardless of the airtime she gets, Johnson felt that the opportunity was a great one for the experience she gained and the networking she was able to do with other actors.
Johnson has her sights set on Hollywood. While she can imagine teaching theater in the future, her goal is still to make it to the red carpet herself.
“I want to get cast in a long-term acting gig. My dream is to be on a sitcom like The Office, where I could play a character that’s weird and fun,” she said. “I’d love to be like Mindy Kaling, who writes a lot and acts in her own projects. Moving forward in the immediate future, I would like to get signed with an agent and submit my play to more festivals.”